Yolanda (Y the T) Retter Vargas!

Well, this is my first blog entry, and we'll see how many others i put together. Really, this entry is to post on the life of Yolanda Retter Vargas, an amazing mujer who kept me in check and made sure that i put my politics into practice whenever i was inside the archive or library, and outside of it as well. We had disagreements from time to time, but we had many more laughs. Her support made my second year in library studies much more meaningful, and made my work for this website more effective.

In addition to the article below, you can check out these articles from FemmeNoir or The Advocate.

Memorial to Honor Yolanda Retter, Activist Scholar
By Jeanne Cordova & Lynn Ballen

A memorial to celebrate the life of pioneer Latina lesbian activist Yolanda Retter Vargas will be held at MCC in West Hollywood on September 29th. Retter passed away from cancer at her home in Los Angeles on August 18, 2007, after a short illness which stunned family and friends.
An activist and scholar, Yolanda was a major force in the early L.A. lesbian movement as a fierce advocate for lesbians of color. In her last two decades Yolanda became a highly-educated and much sought after librarian, archivist and editor.

Yolanda worked as head Librarian/Archivist at the Chicano Studies Resource Center at UCLA for the past four years. Her supervisor, Chon Noriega, at UCLA Chicano Studies Resource Center, says, "Learning mattered to her because it could help change the world. Yolanda exemplified the CSRC's mission 'Research that makes a difference' in everything that she did at the Center, and in the many other things that she did in the world."
She co-edited and contributed to a number of significant books on lesbian/gay culture and history, including the Lambda Literary award-winning Queers in Space: Communities, Public Places, Sites of Resistance. Her most recent (and somewhat autobiographical) essay, "Sisterhood is Possible" appears in the anthology Time It Was: American Stories from the Sixties (Prentice Hall; 2007).

In her early years, and by self-definition Yolanda was "a lesbian history and visibility activist." Her life's work was dedicated to collecting, preserving and honoring overlooked history. She is the author of the high-respected Lesbian History Project website, a content-rich archive containing important chronology and hundreds of entries celebrating lesbian "herstory" and notable lesbians. It was rated by Lycos in the top five percent of websites and is linked to by GLBTQ sites worldwide.

Yolanda saw her purpose in life as being "a gadfly on the body politic." She challenged movement leaders and was ahead of her time in raising consciousness on behalf of Latina lesbians and women of color. Her confrontational style earned her the proudly worn nickname "Yolanda the Terrible" or "Y the T."

Born in Connecticut of a North American father and Peruvian mother, Yolanda spent much of her childhood in El Salvador. The racism she experienced when she returned to school in Connecticut at age twelve set the tone for her activism on issues of race in the lesbian movement. After moving to California for her Bachelors Degree in Sociology at Pitzer College, she became involved in the embryonic Southern California lesbian movement.
In the early 1970s Yolanda was among the lesbians who formed radical civil rights organizations and was a founding member of Lesbianas LatinaAmericas in 1974. She was a board member at the founding conference that attempted to create the National Lesbian Feminist Organization. A member of the National Conference Planning Committee of Lesbians of Color (1978 to 1983), Yolanda was also a founding member of Lesbianas Latinas in 1980, and later involved in Lesbianas Unidas.

In these years Retter remained proudly and exclusively committed to working on issues for and about women. She was a board member of the last Lesbian Center in Los Angeles, Connexxus/Centro Mujeres. And in 1988, through her job as Director of Women's Programs at GCSC's Lesbian Central, she appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Yolanda worked as a volunteer in the prison and parole programs of the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, was manager of GCSC's Liberation House in 1972 and was director of the Pasadena Rape Hotline in 1977. In 1978 she co-founded the "Los Angeles Women's Yellow Pages." She also devoted herself as founding archivist of the Lesbian Legacy Collection at the International Gay & Lesbian Archives (USC) and spent many volunteer hours at the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives (West Hollywood.)

Yolanda brought her lifelong love of books and identity politics together professionally in the last twenty years of her life. She earned her Masters in Library Science at UCLA (1983) and a Masters in Social Work at UCLA(1987) with a thesis on Latina Lesbian Identity Development. In the early 1990s she moved to New Mexico where she earned a PhD in American Studies with her dissertation, "On The Side of Angels: Lesbian Activism in Los Angeles, 1970-1990."

From 1989 to 1991 she ran the Los Angeles Public Library Chicano Resource Collection where she created the first "Latino Biography" database.
Pursuing her devotion to people of color issues, Yolanda became a research consultant for exhibits and for films such as the HBO movie "Walk Out," the story of how East L.A. Latino teenagers protested in 1968. She lent her critical cultural eye as a diversity content consultant to gay and feminist historical books such as Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975.

Yolanda's many awards and honors include a "Lifetime Achievement" award at the USC "Queer Frontiers" conference in 1995, a Monette-Horwitz Award in 2000, a Call Mattachine Scholar Award and Mary Warner Award for her co-authorship of the book, Gay and Lesbian Rights In America: A Documentary History . In June of 2007 she received a Rainbow Key Award from the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board of the West Hollywood City Council for her contributions and dedication to "making lesbian and Latina lesbian history materials widely available to researchers and the writers who tell our stories."

Among her more personal and eccentric talents, Retter was a fine carpenter and an airplane mechanic. In her private business she bought and sold rare books. She often captained security as a chief monitor for community events. She was security coordinator for the people of color contingent for the First Lesbian and Gay March on Washington in 1979. She directed monitoring at the Los Angeles Dyke March and Sunset Junction, the latter for over two decades. Another memorable sideline of Yolanda's was a talent for turning a phrase into the unique and ironic slogan buttons worn in the '70s, which she hand-made using her own slogans. "One sister's butch is another sister's femme," "You've just been served by a Lesbian" and "Marimacha, y que?" were among her original slogans.

Yolanda Retter added her mother's maiden name, Vargas, to her own in the early nineties in the Latina tradition. Her uncle, Alberto Vargas was the famous pinup artist and her grandfather Max Vargas a renowned photographer. She made several research trips to her ancestral Peru. Her essays on Peruvian photography appeared in exhibit catalogs and Latin-American photography journals. And her essay on marginalized groups and archives is upcoming in a collection from Libraries Unlimited.

Yolanda is survived by her life partner, Leslie Golden Stampler, her father Henry Retter and four siblings from Connecticut.

Her memorial, "The Pages of Yolanda's Her Story" will be held at 1 p.m. on September 29, 2007. The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) is located at 8714 Santa Monica Blvd (East of San Vicente, West of La Cienega, between Westbourne and Huntley).

Everyone is invited to bring a written page of history, a Yolanda story, poem, button, or photo for inclusion in the pages of a history book that will be compiled for the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives of Los Angeles. The Mazer is producing a multimedia presentation for the memorial. Photos for inclusion in this presentation should be sent to: The Mazer Collection at lesbianphotos@aol.com.

Donations in Yolanda's memory can be made to the Yolanda Retter Foundation, c/o The Law Office of Karen L. Mateer, 618 S. Lake Ave, Pasadena CA 91106

Yolanda has left her memoirs and scholarly papers to the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Her websites on lesbian and women of color history will be back online by late August.

For further information contact Lynn Ballen at lynnhballen@aol.com.